It’s The Data, Stupid

It’s The Data, Stupid

No Offense

I mean no offense by the title. The title goes back to American election politics. Someone somewhere (James Carville said this in 1991 about the focus of the campaign he managed for Bill Clinton.. Forgot that, but I found it in about 8 seconds because of fast data in the cloud). I’m not calling anyone stupid – but It’s the data, stupid.

Background & Intent of This Post

I’ve been working on iterations of this blog post for about a week now but was having a hard time figuring out where to start. The angle was going to be the name change of PASS , the BAC Conference, some knee jerk reactions about these things (including some I felt), the “cloud” and a sense of unease among traditional DBA or SQL Tuning type folks (like me).

That still works, but I just watched the Dr. Rimma Nehme keynote (Link to be added to recording when PASS shares it, that goes to the PASS TV programming right now, not her talk) and that changes things up a bit. The title too..


I’m going to look at this from three angles. A confession, an aha! moment and some encouragement/future thoughts.

Confession of a Well Anchored SQL Person

At first I was like... Cloud Database!!
At first I was like..

I wasn’t really as grumpy as the picture showed. I just didn’t care to go deep and learn about open, true self-service data analytics, what was going on in the various “clouds” out there, the craze about “BIG Data” or some of the directions that I saw as marketware, trend, hype, etc. Now it’s not all my fault, I blame Microsoft a bit. The story they tried delivering in 2011/2012 may not have been delivered like this, but I received it as, “All your data are belong to us.. Get in the cloud.. Get automated and stop managing this or that.” It was “Go Cloud, Go Cloud, Go Cloud!” for a stint there. At that same time the CIO marketing magazines and seminars were all cloud and stop spending on IT and achieve some CIO Zen.

My reaction to that? I dug my heels in stronger and ignored a lot of it. You could call me an anchored and boxed-in DBA. I said “Heck I have clients still on SQL Server 2005 sometimes, I’m fine until I retire or pay off the mortgage at least.” That’s weird for me – I love learning. I love new challenges.. But I felt threatened or pushed. I felt like I was being trapped by marketing hype and CIOs who didn’t know what they wanted but ate the marketing.


My AHA! moment here has been slowly building for about a year. I started noticing different conversations with CIOs and IT Directors.. Instead of “we need this cloud thing!”, the conversations sounded more like:

  • “Why are we spending all of our time and budget on doing maintenance things to our servers in 2014?”
  • “Why can’t we scale up on Black Friday without adding racks into our server room that we won’t fully utilize the rest of the year?”
  • “I want this important system here.. I want to get the best performance and I want the control of it – but why do I have to do that with all of these other apps and data sources? Why can’t we just pay as we go and reduce our overhead strategically?”
  • “I don’t care where it lives.. I just want my data to be there.. I want it to answer my questions and make sense. I want to quickly get insights and not spend money on a year long Data Warehouse death march..”

I’ve been hearing conversations involving strategy. I’ve been hearing people talk more about their data and less about their databases. I’ve heard valid reasons for considering looking at a bigger picture than the picture we’ve seen for the past 20-30 years. I’ve also not heard “I want to throw my entire infrastructure away.”

Aha! It makes more sense
But then I was like..

Microsoft’s song has changed here. Not just this year – it’s been changing. Maybe their mission never changed, but the reception of it has. They don’t care where you store your data either. They can make money in the cloud. They can make money in the traditional “earthed” (Thank you Dr. Nehme) product. They are creating valid answers for customers looking for Infrastructure as a Service, Data as a Service, Platform as a Service and local, you control and fully own local resources. They’ve been offering hybrid stories also.

Are they perfect here? No. No one is – but they are crafting a great story and I see a big future in getting more into the cloud. I see a future in worrying more about the data than the database. I see a change that is sticking in this world and I truly feel that things will look different in 5 years. Could I just focus on the box product?  Sure, I probably could – but I’d be doing my future a disservice. I’m not going to do that anymore.

And I really just talked about the cloud here – but I’m talking about analytics. I’m talking about business users having access to streams of data that make sense and giving them the ability to quickly, mostly on their own, make sense of data. It’s 2014.  They should be able to do that  and do it well. And they are in a lot of places with a lot of tools already. We need to adjust or get left behind.


First off, PASS. I actually think we owe PASS a great big thank you. Hear me out. Are there things to work out and do to make PASS even better? Sure.  We all do.  Why thank you? I wrote a post a few years back about PASS not being the community. I talked about what “4 years ago Mike” thought PASS meant and did. I stand by some of my comments and the conversation in the comments there. But I missed something that PASS does…

We/It/They shape careers..  Seriously. PASS has a great (I assume it’s great) relationship with Microsoft… Microsoft wants to grow and keep up with the world. The folks involved in the SQL community from Microsoft and PASS don’t just care about making Microsoft stronger – they care about making the professionals behind their product strong. A strong community of data professionals who know their stack mean their customers get the best experience. And yeah, that does mean more licenses, but that’s what a software company is there to care about, right?

So.. PASS has done a few things for the #SQLFamily in this regard.. Remember when there weren’t a ton of BI sessions at the Summit? DBAs got scared when that started changing.. But it helped foster learning, knowledge and interest. Basically? folks who care to come to Summit and receive the learning and take that learning back to their regions started becoming BI Professionals. They were not the only ones doing this – but it was the right place to help take the community to what’s next.

PASS is doing that again in some senses here, right? They know what’s coming.They are helping to show us what’s coming next and make us ready. Instead of looking for conspiracies and following dollars or worrying about the why or the why behind the why – I need to jump on the train and learn what they are curating for me.

What about us “earthed” DBAs?

I think we need to remember and do a few things:

  1. SQL Server as we know it isn’t going away.
  2. It is going to be augmented with hybrid solutions into the cloud for some elasticity for scale. Or into the cloud for HA/DR without having to own and maintain that hardware.
  3. Your CIOs are really serious about this now. It’s no longer buzzword bingo. Start learning.
  4. Your users are already used to dragging things around and having things simplified. They don’t want us to spend months building rigid data warehouses and then go through much development effort to answer different questions later.. When I go on a trip – my airline sends me an e-mail. My windows phone assistant “sees” that e-mail, tracks the flight, gives me information on the destination, tells me when to leave for the flight, suggests restaurants and gives me routing information… Our business users won’t put up with “yes.. we should spin up a project, create some databases, do some loads, write some complex reports, iterate through and test and then deliver once done.” when they ask us “hey.. can we see what kind of effect on sales we might see if we consolidate these two stores?”
  5. Data is more important than it ever has been. Be an effective guardian of that data and you have a career that lasts.

I want to close with more on that last thought:

Data has always been important. We know that. There is more data now than there ever has been. Data is more readily available now. People are used to searching and grid searches and truly semantic questions being answered quickly now. Everything we do has data associated. Data is money to our clients and business users. Private data needs to be secured more now than ever. It needs to be available. It needs to be combined. It will still need to be massaged at times. Data needs our personalities more now than ever. We just may be doing things a little bit differently. But if we don’t jump on board and learn where the industry is going – we’ll fit into less puzzles in time.

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